Are LG’s New Headquarters Really A ‘Public Shame’?

Are LG’s New Headquarters Really A ‘Public Shame’?
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New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman is on a roll lately in his quest to hold architects accountable for their design shortcomings. His latest target? The firm HOK, which he says has turned tech manufacturer LG’s new headquarters into an “eyesore”.

What’s so wrong with the proposed LG building? One of the biggest areas of contention for opponents is that LG was able to secure a variance for its building height, meaning the Borough of Englewood Cliffs in New Jersey made an exception to the zoning code just for these headquarters. The zoning was later changed completely for the property, meaning the building can exceed the previous height limit by over 30m — rising 44m, which is high above the tree line.

That might not seem like a lot, but the building is located on private land adjacent to the Palisades, a long, leafy bluff that’s designated as a National Natural Landmark.

According to renderings created by various opponent groups, it would completely ruin the view of the Palisades, especially the scenic vistas from the Cloisters, the museum of antiquities on the Manhattan side of the river. According to the group Protect the Palisades, it isn’t just this one project that’s the problem, it’s the fact that the changes in zoning opens the door for many more high-rise development throughout the area. In addition, there are real concerns about the impact on wildlife in what is largely a completely undeveloped area.

How the building will look according to campaign materials by Protect the Palisades

How the building will look according to the site LG Englewood Cliffs

Kimmelman calls the building a “lousy neighbour” to both New Jersey residents and the folks across the river in Manhattan. Although the project touts tons of sustainability features, he writes, it’s not enough to overcome all the problems that make it a bad building:

Its design includes an 85,000-square-foot solar array, 700 new trees and a landscaped parking lot. Imagine your neighbours explaining away the ear-busting stereo that blasts 24 hours a day by boasting that it’s made from recycled parts.

Kimmelman does LG and HOK an even greater disservice by comparing the campus to the (widely praised) NBBJ-designed headquarters that its biggest rival, Samsung, is building across the country in San Jose. This is probably the biggest zinger about the LG building in the whole piece: “It will be a constant reminder on the skyline to shop Samsung.” Ouch!

It’s great that Kimmelman is taking a stand against bad corporate neighbours (as he has here and also with Thom Mayne’s Cooper Union building), but is targeting the architects really the right way to go? Does he blame Norman Foster for enabling Apple’s isolationist campus? Or Frank Gehry for helping Facebook’s empire consume Menlo Park? Aren’t these institutions really the ones creating the conditions for failure by choosing to knock down historic structures, impede upon nearby parks and wetlands, or locate their buildings far away from transit, requiring their employees to drive?

Samsung — like Amazon in Seattle — is definitely getting plenty of attention for locating its headquarters to an urban area. You can praise its architects, NBBJ, for the sleek cube that will certainly be an asset to the city, but you can’t really commend them for choosing that dense San Jose neighbourhood. That was all Samsung. [New York Times]